New Yorker

#ClimateChange is first & foremost a threat to human society. #StopAdani #auspol

By Ryan Cooper

NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com.

His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

Climate change is first and foremost a threat to human society.

That fact has been somewhat obscured in regular discourse, in favor of a false dichotomy portraying climate policy as an upper-middle-class noblesse oblige idea for anxious birders and other environmentalist types, and hardheaded economists who think building up yet more wealth is more important.

In reality, one obvious way that threat to humanity is going to be expressed is through economic damage.

In other words, unchecked climate change is going to be terrifically expensive.

Now, its exact cost is basically impossible to predict.

Contrary to people who would confidently rely on cost damage estimates for 2100, economic projections tend to be wildly inaccurate over even five years.

Furthermore, the amount of damage will depend greatly on what humans do in the future, and there have been few studies on what damage would be like under higher warming scenarios of 3 degrees or above.

But we can say the damage is going to be very large — indeed, it’s already quite bad.

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information estimates that 2017 was America’s most expensive year for climate disasters of all time, with 16 disasters costing over $1 billion (more than three times the 1980-2017 average, after accounting for inflation) and a total cost of over $300 billion. That’s about 1.5 percent of total GDP — or enough to pay for a $300 per month child allowance for every parent in America, with some left over.

This year is already off to a bad climate start as well.

There is a severe precipitation shortfall in parts of the Southwest, with some Colorado drainages at less than 30 percent of the median snowpack. Southern California has also been rather dry — with the exception of severe rains that hammered parts of the region over the last few days, causing flooding and multiple mudslides that have killed at least 20 people.

Even the blizzard that recently struck the Northeast may have been influenced by climate change. Contrary to the notions of President Trump, who appears to believe that climate science predicts it will never be cold again anywhere at any time, it seems warming disrupts the “polar vortex,” or the belt of cold air that circles around the poles of the Earth.

With a weak polar vortex, frigid Arctic air can make it further south than usual — while warmer air can make it further north, leading to the paradoxical result of Anchorage occasionally being warmer than New York, or even Jacksonville.

The dramatic and rapid increase in climate damages over the last decade suggests that disasters may increase nonlinearly with warming — that is, a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations might lead to more than twice the quantity of disasters.

The only way to be sure about that is after the fact, but it’s still wise to assume it might be true, due to the larger downside risk.

If not, then we have decarbonized our society more rapidly than we might otherwise have. But if it is true and we don’t take action, the result could be catastrophic.

Now, a few caveats are in order.

First, of course we cannot say with ironclad certainty that these weather disasters are 100 percent caused by climate change, because climate change isn’t the sort of phenomenon that causes individual events.

What we can say is that these are just exactly the sort of weather disasters that are predicted to become more common and worse as the planet continues to warm.

Don’t let careerist debate pedants mix you up on this point. (And in fact, preliminary work on Hurricane Harvey found that climate change significantly increased its amount of rainfall.)

Second, expense is a highly problematic metric for measuring the overall world damage to climate change.

The countries most vulnerable to climate change are generally poor, and so devastating climate disasters aren’t going to show up as costing very much in dollar terms.

Indeed, by far the worst disasters of 2017 happened outside the United States.

As Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, over 11,000 people were killed by weather disasters in 2017, including 2,700 in South Asia — as against perhaps 1,400 or so in the United States (the vast majority in Puerto Rico).

Nevertheless, climate disasters really are going to be hugely expensive for the United States — and not just in dollar terms.

For example, the refusal from President Trump and the Republican Congress to properly rebuild Puerto Rico has not just killed probably over 1,000 people, it has also led to a severe shortage of IV bags, no doubt killing many more.

It drives home the fact that dawdling on climate policy, as Democrats did when they had majorities in 2009-10 — or denying it’s even necessary, as virtually every person of consequence in the Republican Party does — is not going to be some profitable venture. Poor countries will be hit worse, but American cities will be wrecked, much critical infrastructure will be destroyed, and many insurance companies and programs will be bankrupted. It will require endless expensive bailouts and reconstruction packages simply to stay ahead of the damage.

Conversely, the faster we move on climate policy, the cheaper it will be.

The International Energy Agency has roughly estimated that every year of delay adds $500 billion to the world total of necessary investment to head off climate change. (A stitch in time saves nine, as the saying goes.)

On the most important issue facing humanity, the United States is becoming dangerously close to a rogue state. Let us hope we can soon rejoin the world community and start acting like sensible, moral adults again.

Press link for more: The Week

Advertisements

#StopAdani We can’t afford the damage bills! #ClimateChange record $306 Billion in U.S. 2017

Natural disasters caused record $306 billion in damage to U.S. in 2017

Doyle RiceUpdated 4:46 p.m. ET Jan. 8, 2018

AUSTIN — A trio of monster hurricanes and a ferocious wildfire season led to the costliest year for natural disasters on record in the U.S. in 2017, with nearly a third of a trillion dollars in damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday.

The U.S. endured 16 separate weather and climate disasters with losses that each exceeded $1 billion last year, with total costs of about $306 billion, a new record for the country. It broke the previous record set in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and other disasters caused $215 billion in damage to the U.S.

Last year’s disasters killed 362 people in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, NOAA said. However, NOAA climatologist Adam Smith said the death toll could increase based on information that continues to come in from Puerto Rico.

It was also the most expensive hurricane season on record at $265 billion and the costliest wildfire season on record at $18 billion, Smith said.

The news comes only weeks after the House passed an $81 billion disaster aid package. The Senate did not take up the bill and is working on its own version.

Hurricane Harvey racked up total damage costs of $125 billion, second only to Hurricane Katrina in the 38-year period of record keeping for billion-dollar disasters. Rainfall from Harvey caused massive flooding that displaced more than 30,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes and businesses, NOAA said.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma totaled $90 billion and $50 billion in damage, respectively. Maria now ranks as the third-costliest weather and climate disaster on record for the nation and Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest.

The total of last year’s disaster costs is nearly the same as Denmark’s gross domestic product, which the World Bank tallied at $306.9 billion in 2016.

Climate change is “playing an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters, most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding,” Smith said.

Another expert, University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, said that “while we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today’s extremes have climate change fingerprints on them.”

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Austin.

As for temperatures in 2017, the U.S. sweltered through its 3rd-warmest year on record, trailing only 2012 and 2016, NOAA said.

For the third consecutive year, every state across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska was warmer than average.

Five states — Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina — experienced their warmest year on record. Thirty-two additional states, including Alaska, had annual temperatures that ranked among the 10 warmest on record.

“While the weather can change on a dime, our climate is steadily warming,” said Shaun Martin of the World Wildlife Fund. “Each year provides another piece of evidence in what science has already confirmed — the consequences of rising temperatures are putting people and wildlife at risk.”

“In the U.S., we’re seeing more severe droughts, wildfires, crop losses and more frequent coastal storms with deadly impacts,” Martin added.

Global temperature data for 2017 will be released on Jan. 18 by NOAA and NASA.

Press link for more: USA TODAY

NYC Declares War on Fossil Fuels #CoalWar #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

As New York City Declares War on the Oil Industry, the Politically Impossible Suddenly Seems Possible

Naomi Klein

January 12 2018, 5:26 a.m.

Five years ago, when 350.org helped kick off the global fossil fuel divestment movement, one of the slogans the team came up with was “We > Fossil Fuels.”

The T-shirts and stickers were nice, but I have to admit that I never really felt it.

Bigger than fossil fuels?

With their bottomless budgets?

Their endless capacity to blanket the airwaves and bankroll political parties?

The slogan always made me kind of sad.

Well, yesterday in New York City, listening to Mayor Bill de Blasio announce that the city had just filed a lawsuit against five oil majors and intended to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel companies, I actually felt it.

After being outgunned by the power and wealth of this industry for so many years, the balance of power seemed to physically tilt.

It’s still not equal — not by a long shot — but something big changed nonetheless.

Regular humans may not be more powerful than the fossil fuel companies now — but we might be soon.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announces a lawsuit against five oil companies at a press conference on Jan. 10, 2018.

Within minutes of de Blasio’s announcement going public, activists in London started tweeting at their mayor to step up in equally bold fashion. And while the press conference was still streaming live, several of us started to get emails from city councillors in other cities around the world, promising to initiate a similar process in their communities.

Such is the power of an action emanating from a center as symbolically important as New York City: What felt politically impossible yesterday suddenly seems possible, and the dominos start instantly falling.

It’s also extremely significant that the divestment and lawsuit were announced in tandem — because they have the potential to reinforce one another in a kind of virtuous market cycle. Part of the reason why fossil fuel divestment has picked up so much momentum over the past two years is that fossil fuel stocks have been performing badly.

This is mainly because the price of oil has been depressed, but it is also because of market uncertainty created by the increasingly powerful climate and indigenous rights movements, and the signing of the Paris climate agreement.

All of this has raised the question of whether fossil fuel companies are really going to be able to get their pipelines and other infrastructure built, given the strength of the opposition. And they have also raised the question of whether these companies will be able dig up the huge oil, gas, and coal reserves that are currently factored into their stock prices — or are these are going to become stranded assets?

Right now, we don’t know the answers to these questions, and that uncertainty can give many smart investors pause.

(The Trump administration, by ditching the Paris Agreement and opening up vast new swaths of territory for exploration, has been trying frantically to reassure the markets by sending the opposite message — that it’s back to dirty business as usual.)

Now, with New York City’s lawsuit for climate damages, the market is confronting the prospect of a cascade of similar legal actions — cities, towns, and countries all suing the industry for billions or even (combined) trillions of dollars in damages caused by sea-level rise and extreme weather events.

The more suits that get filed, the more the market will have to factor in the possibility of fossil fuel companies having to pay out huge settlements in the near to medium term, much as the tobacco companies were forced to in past decades.

As that threat becomes more credible, with more players taking New York City’s lead, the investor case for dumping these stocks as overly high risk will be strengthened, thereby lending a potent new tool to the fossil fuel divestment movement.

A virtuous cycle. Oh, and the more we are able to hit the industry in the pocketbook, the less likely costly new drilling and pipeline projects will be to go ahead, no matter how many precious national parks and pristine coastlines the Trump administration attempts to desecrate.

If the economics don’t make sense, the drilling simply won’t advance.

That’s why New York’s actions are so significant, not just in New York or the United States, but globally. (It’s also why I got so cranky with the New York Times for treating it like a minor municipal event, buried on page 23.)

Yesterday was a big, good day for the planet – and we needed one of those.

Because we had been part of kick-starting the divestment movement, Bill McKibben and I were invited to speak at Mayor de Blasio’s press conference. Here are my notes from what I said there.

Top photo: Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen at a press conference on NYC’s plan to divest it’s pension system holdings of petroleum industry stock as a means of combating climate change at the Manhattan Youth Center in New York, NY, USA on January 10, 2018.

Press link for more: The Intercept.Com

Time to Demand Climate Action #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

You won’t stop climate change on your own — demand action!

Most of us do things every day that contribute to climate change, and changing our behavior is vital. But we won’t get anywhere acting alone.

And that’s where you come in.

“Your individual actions are key to protecting our planet,” could almost be a slogan for our century.

That’s why I don’t have a car, only buy second-hand clothes, barely eat meat, recycle carefully and have even given up one of my favorite indulgences — chocolate cream made with palm oil.

Being eco-friendly makes me feel good on many levels — and, we all know, sounds cool. But let’s be honest: Does it really make any meaningful difference to the planet? Or am I just soothing my own conscience as the world burns?

Is there really anything we can do as individuals to tackle the global problem of climate change?

Yes, your actions matter

It’s frustrating when your day-in-day-out efforts and sacrifices save fewer emissions than someone else’s single journey on a private jet.

But big change starts with the dedicated actions of a few — where would we be if early suffragists gave up their fight because others refused to engage?

Of course, actions such as recycling are positive – but are they enough?

“Lots of young people come to me and ask, can I do something, does it matter what I do?” Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, told DW.

“The answer is yes. No one else can change the world — you can change the world.”

Solheim says change can happen much faster than we think; it’s just a question of will.

Scott Goodson, founding chief executive of the marketing agency StrawberryFrog, also believes movements start with individuals — and someone has to take the lead.

Awareness of your own impact on the planet and the contribution each of us can make, feeds into the bigger fight against global warming.

Many people still find it hard to relate to a problem on the scale of climate change, Goodson told DW. But “inspiring behavior” can help them engage.

Be part of a community.

And making a difference is only really possible when millions of people join forces.

“We are actually quite powerless as individuals,” Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and author of “The End of Nature,” told DW.

Climate change has taken on such worrying dimensions that noble actions at home are no longer enough, McKibben said.

“The only thing an individual can do that really matters is become a little bit less of an individual and join together with others in the movements that are big and broad enough to actually change government policy.”

The collective actions of indigenous peoples from around the world are a point in case.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad, points out that 20 years ago, indigenous peoples were not even mentioned in climate talks.

At COP23 this year, their presence was crucial.

This was the result of small individual and local actions in far-flung corners of the world cooperating to make a global impact, Ibrahim says.

Demand political action

This all sounds very inspiring. But there is another much more challenging step before real change happens — political change.

If you feel frustrated because family members can’t be bothered to recycle, how does it feel to learn the EU is still granting subsidies to the fossil fuel industry?

Sadhguru, an Indian spiritual leader and ecologist, told DW says it doesn’t matter how much you do as an individual , or even as a group, if political leaders don’t act.

“If you don’t have a clear-cut policy and if the administration or the governments don’t invest in this direction, […] there is never going to be a solution,” he said.

As McKibben says, “we need many people in the streets demanding action and pushing governments to move much, much faster than they’re currently contemplating.”

Paying more for organic food might ensure your own grocery budget doesn’t support climate-harmful farming practices. But it doesn’t stop big corporations polluting the planet.

Taking individual responsibility is good for the climate, but individualism isn’t.

We need to think as communities, get together to put pressure on our governments, and create new social and economic paradigms.

At least, that’s my New Year’s resolution.

Press link for more: DW

#ClimateChange Threatens National Security. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Trump’s Silence on Climate Change Threatens Our National Security

By Mark Nevitt On 12/21/17 at 7:24 AM

This article first appeared on Just Security.

This week, President Donald Trump released an “America First” National Security Strategy (NSS), a document that is supposed to represent “a dramatic rethinking of American foreign policy from previous decades,” according to Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, the president’s second national security adviser.

Yet, the document omits any reference to climate change as a national security threat.

This is in contrast to previous national security strategies. In fact, the term “climate change” is not mentioned at all in the Trump NSS .

This is wishful, wishful thinking.

Make no mistake: Simply because a threat is not addressed does not mean that it no longer exists. The ice in the Arctic does not stop melting, humanitarian disasters exacerbated by climate change do not cease, the drought crisis in Yemen is not solved, nor does the rising ocean stop threatening to drown military installations on the water’s edge.

Clearly, Trump has the authority and legal obligation, as commander-in-chief, to present his national security vision, whatever that may be. But the wholesale absence of the term “climate change” (first briefly mentioned by President George W. Bush in the 2002 NSS ) is a significant step backward.

By its silence, the new strategy document ignores the emerging military, intelligence, and scientific community consensus that has consistently and objectively stressed climate change’s growing threats to national security.

Indeed, the only discussion of climate is via a passing reference, which acknowledges that “ climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system ” in the context of economic security. And Trump’s NSS states that the United States will reduce pollution and greenhouse gases but only “ while expanding our economy.”

Vladimir Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov (left) watch the launch of a missile during military exercises in the Barents Sea aboard of ‘Pyotr Veliky’ nuclear missile cruiser 17 August 2005. A Russian nuclear submarine fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) as part of major exercises in the Barents Sea. ALEXEY PANOV/AFP/Getty

Contrast Trump’s NSS to those of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, whose administration produced two National Security Strategies over its eight years in government. In his first NSS, published in 2010, Obama mentioned climate change no less than 28 times, stating:

The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.

The United States will therefore confront climate change based upon clear guidance from the science, and in cooperation with all nations—for there is no effective solution to climate change that does not depend upon all nations taking responsibility for their own actions and for the planet we will leave behind.

And in his most recent NSS issued in 2015, Obama stressed the need to confront climate change head-on, listing climate change as one of the top eight strategic risks to American national security interests.

In contrast to an “America First” policy, Obama acknowledged the need for American leadership and the importance of international partnerships to address the multifaceted threats posed by climate change.

So, did the threats posed by climate change diminish in any way since 2015? And what new information have we learned about the effects of climate change? The answers are chilling.

In 2016, the National Intelligence Council, issued a report titled “ Implications for U.S. National Security of Anticipated Climate Change,” stating:

Climate change is projected to produce more intense and frequent extreme weather events, multiple weather disturbances, along with broader climatological effects, such as sea level rise. These are almost certain to have significant direct and indirect social, economic, political, and security implications during the next 20 years.

Tragically, this report’s predictions about extreme weather were soon realized with a particularly devastating 2017 hurricane season. Following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria, the military was involved in a massive humanitarian relief effort in Puerto Rico, but its initial response was criticized as “ slow and inadequate.”

As of this writing, Puerto Rico continues to suffer from a “super blackout” in the hurricane’s aftermath, the longest and largest power outage in modern U.S. history.

In the Arctic, the sea ice is melting at a disturbingly fast rate and last year,  in another historical first, a passenger liner recently traversed the fabled Northwest Passage through ice-free Arctic waters for the first in human history. This has given rise to what some media outlets have disturbingly called “ Apocalypse Tourism.”

So, what is our strategy in the Arctic in light of these fundamental changes? Unclear. The U.S. is an Arctic nation, but the America First NSS only mentions the Arctic once in passing.  And it is missing entirely from its “Strategy in a Regional Context” chapter.

But other nations understand that environmental changes are afoot and are planning accordingly. Consider Russia. Beyond expanding its legal claims over oil and gas resources in the Arctic’s continental shelf – the U.S. cannot legally make similar claims as we have not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea – Russia is building massive nuclear ice-breakers and new military bases in the Arctic.

In light of this new America First strategy, where do we go from here?

First, despite a broader and disturbing trend attacking science-based and evidence-based research, the scientific community both within and outside government should continue to stick to their climate research, demonstrating its national security implications as they are unveiled.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit organization with a deep commitment to independent and rigorous scientific research, recently provided an outstanding example of this sort of climate research in its report “The U.S. Military on the Front Lines of Rising Seas.”

It documented the threat of sea-level rise at coastal military installations with its potential to swallow significant parts of naval bases and other installations by the end of this century.

Second, Congress has an increasingly important role to play, particularly in exercising its constitutional “ power of the purse ” to safeguard coastal military installations from the threats posed by climate change and sea-level rise. Indeed, planning for climate change will require massive investment in climate-resilient infrastructure to safeguard Defense Department infrastructure at home and abroad.

Thankfully, Congress has recently awoken to this threat: a Climate Solutions Caucus has recently been established and already has 62 members, a rare bipartisan achievement.

And, just last week, the annual defense-spending bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, was signed into law. In it, Congress acknowledged that climate change is a “ direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

The bill requires the defense secretary to submit to the Armed Services Committees a report on vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next 20 years. This must include a list of “the ten most vulnerable military installations within each service.”

These reports, due next year, will have the weight and credibility of the defense secretary and will have the potential to catalyze a broader discussion on climate change.

Third, military and Intelligence Community leaders have a continued obligation to protect the American people and plan for uncertainty. Indeed, military leaders and the Intelligence Community can and will continue to provide their best military advice to civilian leadership concerning future threats facing the nation and the world. Past intelligence and military analysis concerning climate change should be built upon and not pushed aside.

Part of that is planning for uncertainty in the forthcoming “ climate century ” and a global security environment described by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey in the 2015 National Military Strategy as “ the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service.

The most recent 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review also stressed the need for the U.S. military to not go it alone in facing climate change’s threats, stating “ climate change creates both a need and an opportunity for nations to work together.”

Finally, the very term “America First” is an odd one to resurrect and newly embrace for any National Security Strategy, particularly in light of the term’s usage and checkered history as part of a World War II isolationist movement.

Today, the world is more interconnected than ever. The challenges posed by climate change are more complex than we ever thought. They cannot be faced by any one nation alone. And they certainly can’t be wished away.

Mark Nevitt is the Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and former commander in the Navy, serving as a tactical jet aviator and attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for 20 years.

Press link for more: Newsweek

#ClimateChange link to #CoralBleaching #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

According to a new research report published today in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the 2016 global average temperature and extreme heat wave over Asia occurred due to continued long-term climate change.

The report included research from NOAA scientists.

Additionally, climate change was found to have influenced other heat events in 2016, including the extreme heat in the Arctic, development of marine heat waves off Alaska and Australia, as well as the severity of the 2015-2016 El Nino, and the duration of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.

The sixth edition of Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective presents 27 peer-reviewed research papers that examine episodes of extreme weather across six continents and two oceans during 2016.

It features the research of 116 scientists from 18 countries — including five reports co-led by NOAA scientists — who analyzed historical observations and changing trends along with model results to determine whether and how climate change might have influenced an extreme event or shifted the odds of it occurring.

The findings

The new research found climate change increased the risk of wildfires in the western U.S., and the extreme rainfall experienced in China, along with South Africa’s drought and resultant food shortages.

Researchers found that climate change had reduced the likelihood of the cold outbreaks experienced in China and western Australia in 2016.

No conclusive link to climate change was found by scientists examining severe drought in Brazil, record rains in Australia, or stagnant conditions creating poor air quality in Europe.

In the report, 21 of the 27 papers in this edition identified climate change as a significant driver of an event, while six did not.

Of the 131 papers now examined in this report over the last six years, approximately 65 percent have identified a role for climate change, while about 35 percent have not found an appreciable effect.

There could be several reasons no climate signal was found by some papers; it might be that there were no changes in the frequency or severity for that type of event over time or that researchers weren’t able to detect changes using the available observational record or scientific tools and models available today.

Future studies could yield new insights on the climate’s influence on extreme weather.

More about the report

The BAMS annual report is designed to improve the scientific understanding of the drivers of extreme weather, provide insight into how the various weather extremes may be changing over time, and help community and business leaders better prepare for a rapidly changing world.

Press link for more: NOAA.GOV

One Planet 🌍 #auspol #qldpol #climatechange #StopAdani

Climate Change is our greatest challenge it’s a race against time, and we’re losing.

Australia & the United States should be leading the world.

Instead we continue to invest in fossil fuels and refuse to put a price on carbon pollution.

Corporations have corrupted our democracies.

Our children & future generations will pay for our greed & negligence.

Nature’s Shock & Awe for The U.S #ClimateChange #auspol #StopAdani

Shock and awe. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is meant to be, in Southern California, the start of rainy season.

Not this year.

The Thomas Fire, the worst of those roiling the region this last week, grew 50,000 acres on Sunday alone; it has now burnt 270 square miles and forced 200,000 people from their homes.

There is no rain forecast for the next seven to ten days, and as of Monday morning, Thomas is just, in the terrifying semi-clinical language of wildfires, “10% contained.” To a poetic approximation, it’s not a bad estimate of how much of a handle we have on the forces of climate change that unleashed it — which is to say, hardly any.

“The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself,” Joan Didion wrote in “Los Angeles Notebook,” collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. But the cultural impression is apparently not all that deep, since the fires that broke out last week produced, in headlines and on television and via text messages, an astonished refrain of the adjectives “unthinkable,” “unprecedented,” and “unimaginable.”

Didion was writing about the fires that had swept through Malibu in 1956, Bel Air in 1961, Santa Barbara in 1964, and Watts in 1965; she updated her list in “Fire Season (1989),” describing the fires of 1968, 1970, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1982: “Since 1919, when the county began keeping records of its fires, some areas have burned eight times.”

We could use further updating: Five of the 20 worst fires in California history have now hit since just September, when 245,000 acres in Northern California burned — devastation so cruel and sweeping that two different accounts were published in two different local newspapers of two different aging couples taking desperate cover in pools as the fires swallowed their homes.

One couple survived, emerging after six excruciating hours to find their house transformed into an ash monument; in the other, it was only the husband who emerged, his wife of 55 years having died in his arms. As Americans traded horror stories in the aftermath of those fires, they could be forgiven for mixing the stories up or being confused; that climate terror could be so general as to provide variations on such a theme seemed, as recently as September, impossible to believe.

But if last week’s wildfires were not unprecedented, what did we mean when we called them that?

Like September 11, which followed several decades of morbid American fantasies about the World Trade Center, the brushfires that began last week north of Santa Paula look to a horrified public like a climate prophecy, made in fear, now made real.

That prophecy was threefold.

First, the simple intuition of climate horrors — an especially biblical premonition when the plague is out-of-control fire, like a dust storm of flame.

Second, of the expanding reach of wildfires in particular, which now can feel, in much of the West, like a gust of bad wind away, and never impossible no matter the time of year.

Over the last few decades, the wildfire season has already grown by two months, and by 2050, destruction from wildfires is expected to double (for every additional degree of global warming, it will quadruple).

But perhaps the most harrowing of the ways in which the fires seemed to confirm our cinematic nightmares was the third: that climate chaos could breach our most imperious fortresses — that is, our cities.

With Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Americans have gotten acquainted with the threat of flooding, but water is just the beginning.

In the affluent cities of the West, even those conscious of environmental change have spent the last few decades believing that, and behaving as though, we had — with our street grids, our highways, our superabundant supermarkets and all-everywhere, all-enveloping internet — built our way out of nature.

We have not.

A paradise dreamscape erected in a barren desert, L.A. has always been an impossible city, as Mike Davis, among many others, has so brilliantly written.

The sight of flames straddling the eight-lane 405 is a reminder that it is still impossible.

In fact, getting more so.

One response to seeing things long predicted actually come to pass is to feel that we have settled into a new era, with everything transformed.

In fact, that is how Governor Jerry Brown described the state of things this weekend: “a new normal.”

The fact that the news cycle has already moved on, while the fires are just as out of control, is another sign of our eagerness to normalize these horrors — or at least to look away.

But normalization is problematic, as perversely comforting as it may feel to think we’ve settled into a familiar nightmare.

Climate change is not binary, and we have not now arrived at a new equilibrium; as I’ve written before, the climate suffering we are seeing now is a “beyond best case” scenario for our future.

With each further tick upward in global temperatures — each tiny tick — the effects will worsen.

And further ticks are inevitable; the question is only how many.

It would be much more accurate to say that we have passed beyond the end of normal, into a new realm unbounded by the analogy of any human experience.

But two big forces conspire to prevent us from normalizing fires like these, though neither is exactly a cause for celebration.

The first is that extreme weather won’t let us, since it won’t stabilize — so that even within a decade, it’s a fair bet that these fires will be thought of as the “old normal.”

Whatever you may think about the pace of climate change, it is happening mind-bendingly fast, almost in real time.

It is not just that December wildfires were unheard of just three decades ago.

We have now emitted more carbon into the atmosphere since Al Gore wrote his first book on climate than in the entire preceding history of humanity, which means that we have engineered most of the climate chaos that now terrifies us in that brief span.

The second force is also contained in the story of the wildfires — the way that climate change is finally striking close to home.

Striking, in fact, some quite special homes: Last Thursday, for instance, there were reports that the fires were threatening the Getty Museum in Pacific Palisades and Rupert Murdoch’s Bel-Air estate.

There may not be two better symbols of the imperiousness of American money than the Getty villa, a San Simeon built on the pure blue Pacific with Texas oil money laundered through art philanthropy; and the nearby toy vineyard of climate-change-denier Rupert Murdoch, built on some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

One imagines that Murdoch will not be writing tweets like this one again anytime soon; then again, who knows?

When, on Thursday, I tweeted that NBC News was reporting that Murdoch’s vineyard was on fire, it immediately spawned a thread of gleeful, crowing responses, more than a thousand of them. But, of course, his property and the Getty were not being singled out; they were fighting off flames because the entire rest of the county was, too, and — no matter how well-equipped or well-defended or well-heeled they were — having just as much trouble. Which is, as uncomfortable as it may be to admit, a very useful allegory for the rest of us to keep in mind.

By accidents of geography and by the force of its wealth, the United States has, to this point, been mostly protected from the devastation climate change has already visited on parts of the less-developed world — mostly.

The condition of Puerto Rico, nearly three months after Hurricane Irma hit, is a harrowing picture of what climate devastation can do to the least among us. That it is now hitting our wealthiest citizens is not just an opportunity for ugly bursts of liberal Schadenfreude; it is also a sign of just how hard, and how indiscriminately, it is hitting. The wealthy used to build castles to defend themselves against the world; more recently it’s been a more modern kind of fortress, cities, enclosing more and more of us in an illusion of man-made security. All of a sudden, it’s getting a lot harder to protect against what’s coming.

Economic Growth Will Destroy Everything. #Neoliberalism #ClimateChange #StopAdani

Economic growth will destroy everything.

There’s no way of greening it – we need a new system.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd November 2017

Everyone wants everything – how is that going to work?

The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs.

But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us.

Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption.

The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative.

And we must adjust our tastes accordingly.

In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced – in this case by the media.

With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts.

Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant.

Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunas, portable watermelon coolers and smart phones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes to the PancakeBot: a 3-D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal or your dog’s bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you don’t have room for it. For junk like this we’re trashing the living planet, and our own prospects of survival. Everything must go.

The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal that there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care about their impacts and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, finds that those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

Why?

Because, environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people.

It is not attitudes that govern our impacts on the planet, but income.

The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions.

Those who see themselves as green consumers, the paper found, “mainly focus on behaviours that have relatively small benefits.”

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling their environmental savings 100-fold.

I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights.

It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.

None of this means that we should not try to reduce our impacts, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise.

Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes of the system.

It is the system that needs to change.

Research by Oxfam suggests that the world’s richest 1% (if your household has an income of £70,000 or more, this means you) produce around 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%.

How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going?

A paper in the journal PlosOne finds that while in some countries relative decoupling has occurred, “no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years.” What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline, but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More importantly, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency.

A global growth rate of 3% means that the size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

Those who justify this system insist that economic growth is essential for the relief of poverty. But a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the world’s people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone.

When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the world’s treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers, smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever less relation to general welfare.

Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all are illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, based on private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation are one beast with two heads.

We need a different system, rooted not in economic abstractions but in physical realities, that establish the parameters by which we judge its health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, a world of private sufficiency and public luxury. And we must do it before catastrophe forces our hand.

http://www.monbiot.com

Press link for more: Monbiot.com

The Last Thing Australia and Our Planet needs #StopAdani New York Times Editorial #auspol 


Environmental activists protesting in Brisbane, Australia, in May. Dan Peled/AAP, via Associated Press
While global demand for coal is falling as the nations of the world have committed themselves to slashing carbon emissions, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia wants to help a powerful Indian conglomerate build an enormous system of coal mines in a remote stretch of Queensland.


Burning the estimated 66 million tons of coal a year that the Adani Group aims to produce from six open-pit and five underground complexes known as the Carmichael mine can only make it harder for the world to meet its aspirations under the Paris climate agreement.

 The project has prompted huge protests across Australia.


“You can’t have both the Paris climate agreement and Adani’s Carmichael coal mine,” the climate change activist Bill McKibben said. “Full stop.”
Mr. Turnbull has promoted the mine with the same argument President Trump has made to remove what he sees as impediments to coal mining in Appalachia, framing mining as a job creator in a region that sorely needs jobs. The prime minister has also supported Adani’s request for a taxpayer-financed loan of $800 million.
But even one of Adani’s consultants has disputed the company’s claim that the project will generate 10,000 jobs. In fact, the project could cost mining jobs elsewhere in Australia.
The nearby Great Barrier Reef supports some 64,000 full-time employees, but shipping all that coal to India risks further harm to this environmentally sensitive area, already endangered by global warming.


The Adani Group chairman, Gautam Adani, plans to use 60 percent of the Carmichael coal, which is of a higher quality than Indian coal, for his financially stressed Mundra coal-fired power plant in Gujarat, India.
It would be a regressive move for India, which is making great strides with solar and other forms of renewable energy. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed India to getting 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Existing coal-burning plants in India are running below 60 percent capacity, and while increased demand for energy may push them to full capacity, by then, “the price of renewables will be lower than the price of coal,” observes Ajay Mathur, director general of the Energy Resources Institute in New Delhi.
India’s energy minister, Piyush Goyal, was clear: “We don’t wish to import coal from anywhere in the world,” he said. “We have sufficient coal capacity in our country.”
Australia is helping Mr. Adani get what he wants, but it’s the opposite of what Australia, India or the rest of the world needs.

Press link for more: NYTimes